Background: I don't usually review books that I listen to on audio, because I find it difficult not to be able to flip back through the book, or include quotes. However, Zilpha Keatley Snyder is one of my favorite authors from my childhood, one whose books have held up for me as an adult. (See my reviews of The Velvet Room and The Changeling, The Ghosts of Rathburn Park, The Green Sky Trilogy, and The Treasures of Weatherby.) And I do have a few things that I want to say about this book. So I'll make a brief attempt.
Review: William S. and the Great Escape is set in the late 1930's. Twelve-year-old William Baggett longs to escape his abusive father and older half-siblings. When the situation reaches a breaking point, William and his three younger siblings decide to run away to their aunt's home on the California coast, 100 miles away. Although they get a bit of help from a new friend, they also find their resourcefulness tested along the way.
[Side note for Snyder fans. As I was listening to the description of the Baggett family, I found myself thinking "Oh, that reminds me of Ivy's family in The Changeling." Only after having that thought did I remember that The Changeling is another Snyder book, one published a generation ago. I liked knowing that even without thinking about who the author was, I recognized the echo of the family.]
William S. and the Great Escape is filled with details about life during the Great Depression, from Roosevelt's welfare program to the types of toys that could be found in wealthier homes. There are also countless references to Shakespeare - William is a huge fan (hence the "S" that he uses for his middle name), and aspiring actor. These references are woven into the story. For example, when the kids have dead time, William acts out plays to entertain his younger siblings.
I wouldn't say that William S. and the Great Escape brings the historical time period to life in the same way that Jenni Holm's Turtle in Paradise does (see my recent review). It's a different sort of book - more focused on the action of the escape than on the setting. It's a novel that happens to be set in a historical period, rather than a "historical novel", if that makes sense.
Unlike some of Snyder's other novels, this one has no hint of magic (besides the magic that takes place in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream). I didn't quite fall in love with William S. and the Great Escape the way I did with The Velvet Room (another Depression-era story) or The Changeling. But I enjoyed William S. and the Great Escape all the same.
I liked William, and felt for his struggles. And really, who wouldn't love a kid who, when running away from home, finds it essential to take his 5 pound Complete Works of Shakespeare with him? I found the "kids on the run on their own" plot engaging, and I think that kids will, too. William S. and the Great Escape reminded me a little bit of Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken, another of my childhood favorites.
I found the resolution of William's great escape quite satisfying. I was even a bit teary-eyed, listening as I drove my car, with Baby Bookworm in the back. I understand from the author's website that a sequel is in the works, and I will certainly want to read that, too. William S. and the Great Escape is solid middle grade fiction, and a must-read book for Zilpha Keatley Snyder fans. Recommended.
Publication Date: September 15, 2009
Source of Book: Downloaded it from Audible.com
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